GemSelect Newsletter - November 2006
There is rarely a dull moment here in Thailand. In September there was a military coup. In October there were major floods in more than half of the country. Our home of Chanthaburi, unfortunately, was one of the worst hit areas.
The water began to rise on October 6th and by the next day the narrow streets of the old town were under about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water. The floodwaters soon spread to the rest of the city, and we had 6 inches (.15 meters) of water covering the ground floor of GemSelect headquarters. Fortunately we have a 3 story building and we were able to keep our operations running. But for a couple of days most of our staff couldn't get to the office, the gem market was closed, and the FedEx trucks couldn't reach us to pick up our shipments. We're glad to say that the gemselect.com website - which rarely goes down for any reason - was up and running throughout. Life soon returned to normal here, as it always does. Now the streets are dry again, a civilian government is running the country, and the gem market is back in business. We're happy with a little less excitement for a while.
Why does a reasonably nice 1 carat heated VS ruby sell for $500 while a fine untreated 6 carat VVS tourmaline goes for $200? Why is a clean untreated 10 carat amethyst only $30? In this month's feature we try to make sense of gemstone prices.
The simple answer, one would think, is that it's just a matter of supply and demand - if a lot of people want to buy a particular kind of gemstone and the supply is limited, the price for that gemstone will be high. However, this answer doesn't really tell the whole story of how things work in the gemstone business.
Consider the case of one of the most rare and expensive gemstones, diamond. In the 19th century, world production of diamond was only a few pounds per year. After the discovery of the huge South African diamond mines in 1870, diamonds were being dug out of the ground by the ton. There was such a glut of supply and so little demand that the British financiers of the South African mines were in danger of losing their investment. Their solution was to create the powerful De Beers cartel that to this day controls worldwide diamond production and supply. Quality diamonds are actually not scarce at all. But De Beers controls how much supply comes on the market and that keeps prices high.
The De Beers consortium also mounted a concerted advertising campaign to create an association between diamonds and love, courtship and marriage, under the now familiar slogan "Diamonds are Forever". The result was increased demand and higher prices for diamonds. The diamond engagement ring, once unknown in most parts of the world (including Europe), is now considered an essential part of the ritual of marriage. This was probably one of the most successful feats of social engineering in the 20th century. (In Thailand a bride still prefers gold, however).
In the colored gemstone world, there is fortunately no cartel, though many forces try to influence market demand and perceived value. Consider for example the terms "precious" and "semi-precious". As almost everyone knows, the precious stones are diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. But did you know that the list of precious stones once included amethyst? What happened? The discovery of major amethyst deposits in Brazil made amethyst widely available and it was dropped from the list of "precious" stones. It would be hard to maintain prices for the other "precious" stones if one of the group sold for only $5 per carat! So amethyst was demoted.
These days some rare semi-precious stones such as alexandrite and demantoid garnet can be more expensive than ruby and sapphire. In fact the US Federal Trade Commission now discourages the use of the misleading distinction between precious and semi-precious gemstones. But ruby, sapphire and emerald continue to command premium prices.
According to the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICGA), the "traditional gemstones" - ruby, emerald and blue sapphire - command a high price due to "their lasting appeal and distinguished history". Even though today most of these stones are treated or enhanced in some way, the price remains precious, though ruby and emerald tend to be more expensive than sapphire.
The ICGA identifies another category of gems that they call the "new classics" - tanzanite, tourmaline, aquamarine, imperial topaz and tsavorite garnet. These stones are considered "the rising stars of gemstone jewelry" and they are also rising in price as their popularity increases. Tanzanite, in particular, has been very heavily promoted.
Lesser-known stones that are not heavily marketed often have very reasonable prices. These stones, which the ICGA calls "collector's gems", include spinel, zircon, moonstone and morganite and other beryl gems.
Then there is a list of gems that the ICGA calls "affordable gemstones" - nicely colored stones with good availability and attractive prices. These include amethyst, citrine, ametrine, peridot, rhodolite garnet, blue topaz, iolite, kunzite, diopside and andalusite.
What all of this makes clear, we think, is that there are several factors at work in determining gemstone prices. Supply is of course important, but the marketing power of the jewelry industry is also a major factor in determining the level of demand. If a gemstone is not widely available or not considered mainstream or "fashionable", it is unlikely to be heavily marketed, and the price is likely to be lower. If a gemstone is in very good supply, as in the last category, there is not much that the jewelry industry can do to influence prices unless they can control the supply like the De Beers cartel. But don't worry, there are no signs yet of a citrine cartel.
So what does this all mean for us? In our view, there are still many good value gems on the market. In the "precious" stone category, it is still possible to buy nice blue sapphires from Madagascar, Africa and Sri Lanka, starting from under $200 per carat. The market for fancy colored sapphire has changed with the introduction of beryllium treatment - the prices have dropped and the colors are more dramatic. Tourmaline may be a "new classic" now, but prices are still attractive and the range of available colors and cuts seem to have increased as tourmaline gets a wider distribution. Burmese spinel, with its excellent hardness and clarity, continues to be a great buy. The brilliance of zircon is hard to equal unless you buy diamond. Then there all the affordable stones still available for less than $10 per carat - wonderful stuff like garnet, topaz, amethyst, citrine and fire opal.
In the end, the most important thing is that you buy the stones that you will love and enjoy. But if you're looking for the best value gems, have a look at some of the lesser-known gems that haven't yet been heavily marketed.
Our buyers are busy every day finding the best value gems for our customers. Here are some of the excellent buys we've made in the last two weeks. Click on the gem names to view the latest samples.
Fluorite from Namibia: We found some very nice African fluorite in late October, in wonderful electric blue and green shades. Weights are mainly in the 4-6 carat range, though we have a small number of very large pieces weighing over 50 carats that will interest collectors. All the pieces are quite clean (VS and VVS).
Citrine from Burma: Most of the citrine available is Brazilian, but this month we're featuring some very fine citrine from other locations. We've just bought some extremely nice Burmese citrine, in a range of colors, shapes and cuts, in gems weighing up to 14 carats. If you've been looking for citrine in concave cuts, here they are!
Citrine from Madagascar: Madagascar has become one of the premier sources for colored gemstones. This is the first time we've been able to buy fine Madagascan citrine. We know citrine lovers will be very pleased with these pieces. If you're a citrine collector, these are for you. We have only a small amount of these, and we're looking for more.
Moss Opal from India: Moss opal is a golden or milky white opal with unique inclusions of green hornblende in moss-like patterns. The last lot we found sold out very quickly. This time we were able to buy both the yellow and the white varieties. They are unique, yet very inexpensive.
Aqua Zircon from Cambodia: If you missed our blue zircon last month, don't worry, you'll love these new aqua specimens. They display excellent color; some have a very intense blue. The gems are ovals and rounds, and weigh up to about 2.3 carats. There are also some lovely matching pairs. These are a great buy for the price.
Peridot from China: We've just added some very nice Chinese peridot to our stock of this increasingly popular gem. These are clean pieces in lively green and olive green, in a variety of cuts (including octagons and fancy letters), weighing up to 2.2 carats.
Sphene from Sri Lanka: All the sphene we've had in the past has been green. However, we've just acquired some marvelous multicolor specimens with excellent luster, weighing up to 6 carats. Be sure to check these out.
Prehnite from South Africa: We don't find prehnite very often, though it's one of our favorites. If you're fond of unusual cabochons for pendants or brooches, have a look at the vitreous luster of these pieces. We only have a small amount and they are quite inexpensive, so they won't last long.
Songea Sapphire from Tanzania: Sapphire can be any color but red (if it's red, it's ruby). Well here are some sapphires that are as red as you can get without being rubies - Songea sapphire in saturated orange-red and pink-red. These are beryllium-treated stones, mainly smaller pieces, with some items up to 1.5 carats, in rounds and ovals. They have wonderful color and very reasonably priced.
The traditional birthstone for November is topaz. One of the most popular of all gemstones, topaz is highly regarded for its excellent hardness (8 on the Mohs scale) and high refractive index. In ancient times it was believed that topaz helped to improve eyesight. The Greeks believed that topaz had the supernatural power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink, a trait we hope you'll find no need to test.
Each month we focus on one of the lesser-known gemstones. This month's featured stone is kyanite.
There are very few gemstones that come in a rich royal to dark blue. For most people, sapphire is probably the only one that comes to mind. Sometimes you can find spinel or tourmaline in blue, but rarely in a highly saturated pure blue. So if you love blue, it's worth taking a look at kyanite.
Almost always cut en cabochon, kyanite has the same chemical composition as andalusite (aluminum silicate). Though found in colors including white, gray, green and yellow, a sapphire-like blue is the most desired color. However, kyanite color tends not to be consistent throughout the crystal, often showing white streaks in medium blue.
Kyanite has a variable hardness - it is softer when scratched parallel to the long axis of the crystal, though the material is quite hard when cut perpendicular to the long axis. Thus gemologists usually recommend that kyanite be used for pendants, earrings or brooches. Kyanite is still largely unknown and quite inexpensive. For more information see our kyanite information page.
In another regular feature, we look at some of the navigation tools available on GemSelect.com.
We have a large inventory on our website - usually more than 7,000 gems - so it can be a challenge when you're looking for something specific. Here's a good way to find exactly what you're looking for.
On the right side of nearly page of our website you'll see a button that says "advanced search". If you click on that button you'll be taken to a page with this panel:
You can select one or more options from the pull-down menus or by typing in the text boxes. In the simplest case, you can just select a gem type - say, tourmaline - and click the "search" button to find all tourmaline. But this tool is intended to let you get much more specific than that.
Suppose you're looking for a tourmaline with a clarity rating of VVS. Just select "VVS" from the "clarity" menu and we'll show you just the VVS tourmaline. Or suppose you're looking for a round blue sapphire of around 1 carat in weight. Select "sapphire" from the gem menu, enter "round" in the "shape" text box, and "blue" in the "color" field. Then type "1" in the weight box and "0.2" in the "+/-" box. Then we'll show you all the round blue sapphires between 0.8 and 1.2 carats. Instead of searching through 1,000 sapphires, you can see one page with just the stones that fit your requirements.
You can also search by price or size, or any combination of these parameters. If you're buying a gift and are looking for an orange stone around $100, just type "orange" in the color field, $100.00 in the price field, and set the "+/-" to say, 15.00. Then we'll show you all the different types of orange stones priced between $85 and $115.
Here's another useful hint - the advanced search is the only way to find a gemstone by its GemSelect ID. If you're looking for an item that you saw on a previous visit, and you remembered to write down its ID, you can look it up here.
Every month we answer questions of general interest from our customers. Please feel free to send your questions or suggestions to our support team at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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Happy Gem Hunting!
Your friends at GemSelect
- First Published: November-01-2006
- Last Updated: June-23-2017
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